Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (paperback)
by Ben Hatke
I really enjoyed Mighty Jack, but it left me hanging. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is the second installation, and as far as I know, Hatke only has or plans to write these two. Jack and Lilley have gone into the garden to look for Jack’s sister, who was captured by a giant. When they get there, they discover a world with Goblins (who turn out to be good), Giants (who are bad), and these weird rat things that chew through the vines and pipes. Jack and Lilley are separated, but both face danger in search of Jack’s sister. They make allies and fight the bad guys, and have a final challenge at the end that will appeal to all of my female students. It doesn’t leave us hanging, but segues into another of Hatke’s series by introducing us to some of his other characters.
What I liked about this book was the girl power. Lilley took charge and was given an important job where she faced tough choices, but came out on top. Jack had to rely on Lilley’s quick thinking a few times, which is a nice change up from “the boy saves the girl.” However, there was the porch scene that was a nice surprise.
What I didn’t like about this book was the way is was crammed in. I felt like there was potential for other parts to be developed and explained, but overall, Hatke did a great job of writing an engaging graphic novel for my sixth grade readers. And their teacher.
Book 55 of 40
(Book 21 of 2018)
The Nameless City (paperback)
by Faith Erin Hicks
The Nameless City is nameless due to it being conquered about every 30 years. Because of this, people in different parts of the city have given it different names. Kaidu is a boy who was born into his place in society, learning to fight to protect the city. He makes friends with a girl who is considered below him, someone who isn’t from the newer part. When they learn the king’s life is in danger, Kaidu and Rat must find a way to make sure he isn’t hurt, but at what expense?
What I liked about this book was that the characters have to look at priorities and the good of all, despite what has been widely accepted by the majority. They also see each other as friends instead of people from different social classes.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t as engaging as I hoped. It actually took me a long time to finish since I read other books. I wasn’t glued to it like I am with graphic novels.
Book 42 of 40
(Book 8 of 2018)
Mighty Jack (paperback)
by Ben Hatke
Mighty Jack is a quick graphic novel about a boy named Jack and his sister Maddy. Their single mom is busy working two jobs and Jack has to watch his sister, who is non-verbal and autistic, during the summer. At the swap meet, Jack’s mom gives him the car keys and $5, but he trades the keys for some mysterious seeds when Maddy speaks to the vendor. These seeds grow into a mysterious and magical garden, which they explore with the help of their neighbor friend. From this garden grows magical and dangerous things, and Ben and Maddy find themselves in an adventure.
What I liked about this book was how engaging it was to read. It reminds me a lot of Amulet, and Amulet has hooked many of my reluctant readers. It has everything a good adventure story should have- family, danger, magic, and even a little romance. I also like how it was quotable- there were several places with hints of a moral, and that is often hard to find in a graphic novel.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it left me on a cliffhanger- I wanted to know more!
Book 37 of 40
(Book 3 of 2018)
All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
All’s Faire in Middle School is the story of Imogene’s journey through the first few months of middle school. Remember when you first started middle school and you didn’t know who you were yet? I personally remember buying clothes and shoes that looked like everyone else’s, and being embarrassed of my family, although they weren’t any better or worse than my friends’ families. I knew who the popular kids were and aspired to be friends with them, and looked down on the awkward ones. These are the struggles that Impy faces when she starts Middle School after being homeschooled for all of elementary. Impy’s parents aren’t rich, and they aren’t like her friends’ parents in that they are a part of the local annual Renaissance Faire. Although Impy loves being part of the Faire, she isn’t sure if being herself is the right thing to do. She finds herself hurting people she cares about and making a fool of herself to impress people she doesn’t really care about in the first place, and she has to find her way out of this very relatable situation without making everything worse.
What I liked about this book is that it’s very relatable. It’s been awhile, but I can remember the sting of being embarrassed in middle school when what other people thought was the most important thing. I remember my parents offering to buy me running shoes when I joined the cross country team, but I wouldn’t let them, because the running shoes were neon and ugly, and I only wanted the suede shoes with the star on the side (Converse). I left the shoe store disappointed. In this graphic novel (that is perfect for my sixth graders, by the way), Impy makes some choices that she has to live with, and that is a very important thing to expose sixth graders to.
What I didn’t like about this book was the angst I felt. Regardless of the choices Impy made, not everything was her fault, and that irritated me the way it would irritate a middle schooler. There was a situation where Impy faced consequences when others at fault were not caught! Ugh- the frustration of being a tween came back to me. That is a sign of good writing if it can bring out those emotions after so many years!
Book 34 of 40
P.S. This is book 82 of 2017! But who’s counting?
by Svetlana Chmakova
Brave is about a seventh grade boy named Jensen who is an easy target for bullies- he’s overweight, he doesn’t have many close friends, he struggles in school, his mom is busy, he daydreams often, etc. He thinks he’s a part of the Art Club, but his “friends” forget to include him in group texts and projects. He is friends with several from the newspaper, but they really just ask him to do little projects FOR them. He is forced to do a group project, and doesn’t have a partner, until a jock volunteers to work with him, and eventually protects him from bullies. There are a few blatantly mean boys who pick on Jensen, and these are the boys the reader wants to squish between the pages. Jensen has to learn about standing up for himself, and what it means to be a real friend.
What I liked about this book is the message. I’m a sucker for a book with a good moral. Jensen has so douchey people in his life, but he also has some that are kind and strong and teach him to stand up for himself. They are willing to be role models and help him make good choices for himself. I think seeing a situation with obvious examples of bullying (like Yanic) and less-obvious examples (like most of the Art Club) is good for students who are unclear.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something I didn’t like, exactly, but something that was upsetting when applied to students. In the beginning, the book was kind of boring. I was getting annoyed that it was just about this wussy kid who let others walk all over him. It bothered me that Jensen didn’t realize he was being bullied. He accepted his treatment as normal, or just the way people are treated. The turning point for me was when his newspaper friends gave him the survey and he started to realize that it was bullying. Exclusion is a subtle example of bullying, but often more painful than being pushed around. Loneliness is why people hurt themselves. I would really like to see this in the hands of my students, bullies and victims alike.
Book 20 of 40
Graveyard Shakes (paperback)
by Laura Terry
Graveyard Shakes is a graphic novel perfect for the month of October. It starts with a father casting a spell to give his son 10 more years of life by taking the life of a child. He enlists the help of a ghost and some ghouls. Then it moves to sisters Katia and Victoria, who are attending a ritzy private school far from home, which I have to assume is in a small town or countryside. Katia is a talented pianist and marches to the beat of her own drum, while Victoria desperately wants to fit in. During a storm, Katia runs into the ghouls and Victoria sets out to save her from the dad and his spell.
What I liked about the book is that it was a fast read and it entertained me. It also presented a student who could care less about what others thought, but needed to tone it down a big, and another who cared too much what people thought and needed to learn to be herself. Although it was entertaining, it still had a message, which I appreciate if I’m to be sharing it with my students.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it was kind of dark. I mean, killing an innocent child so another child could live. Then he shows up later and the girls are okay with that. It was just creepy.
Book 12 of 40
Swing It, Sunny (paperback)
by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
This is the second book about Sunny that the Holms (brother/sister duo) have written. In Sunny-Side Up, Sunny went to Florida to stay with her grandpa while her parents figured out what to do with her older brother Dale and his drug problem. In Swing It, Sunny, Dale is at a military school, angry that he has lost his freedom. Sunny is home and navigating middle school. She enjoys a lot of tv with her friend, learns to swing a flag from a new neighbor, and dresses up like a nurse for Halloween (although she wanted to be a swamp thing). The biggest concern for Sunny is her brother. She loves him and misses him, but he is not himself.
What I liked about this book is that it is great for a students who has a relative with a drug or alcohol problem. It shows that there are pressures for the entire family, not just the parents, when there is a family member who is sick. Her dad did a good job of trying to explain that Dale was not himself, but Sunny had to experience the pain for herself.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it didn’t have a strong plot with a problem and solution that would be a good model for my lower readers. It had a lot of internal conflict, which made it a great story, but harder for my struggling readers to understand.
Book 5 of 40